I took the bus to Deloraine the next morning. Greg, his wife Kate and her daughters Kym and Menon, along with Menon's husband Jason and their children were also there. It was quite a large family gathering. Unfortunately, Menon, Jason and the kids had to fly back to the mainland that afternoon, so we didn't get to talk for long. Before he left, Jason showed me some pictures of him and his son, walking on part of the Overland Track. The photos showcased snowy mountains, dark green forests, wide open grasslands and happy people. It was as if he and I had visited different countries entirely.
At seventeen kilometers, the last section of the Overland Track was one of the longest. It was also one of the easiest sections because it was flat, hugging the shore of Lake Saint Clair. That was a good thing: my right shin was swollen, and the pain had been mounting over the last few days. I figured I had shin splints, the result of carrying a forty-pound backpack that was missing its frame. (My backpack's frame had broken during the flight to Australia.) It was time for me to finish the trek and give my leg some much-needed rest.
This was to be my longest day on the Overland Track. My original plan after reaching the end of the trail was to hitch a ride to Devonport, but after learning that a serial killer named Ivan Milat had single-handedly ruined hitchhiking throughout Australia, I figured a bus would be a safer bet. The next bus to Devonport was due to leave tomorrow afternoon; the next one after that wasn't for several more days. If I wanted to catch tomorrow's bus, I would have to hike two sections today.
An attempt at Mount Ossa would be suicide. The temperature was a few degrees above freezing. Horizontal sleet was pelting me in the face. Whenever the wind gusted, I had to lean into it to avoid getting blown off the trail. My socks and pants were drenched. I had given up on wearing my soaked shirt; instead a waterproof windbreaker was all that covered my torso. Mount Ossa was covered in a fresh coat of snow, and the clouds that swirled around its peak indicated that the wind was fierce. I had a winter hat, but I didn't have gloves. There's a fine line between bringing the correct amount of gear, and being in serious trouble. As I ran downhill, my boots disappearing in a puddle of mud with each step, my white fingers clamped around my backpack's straps, my jacket emitting steam as snow slammed into it and evaporated, I realized that I was dangerously close to crossing that line.
Now that I had my food and supplies organized for the Overland Track, the only question that remained was “How will I get to the trailhead?” I could take a bus all the way from Devonport to Cradle Mountain. But along the way, I wanted to check out the small town of Sheffield, famous for its murals, and the bus didn't stop there. Instead, I decided to hitch a ride to Sheffield, look at the murals for an hour or two, and either hitchhike the rest of the way to Cradle Mountain, or catch the bus as it passed through town. After my experience of “hitching” to the campground in Devonport (where I didn't even have to ask for a ride), I figured hitchhiking in the rest of Tasmania would be easy.
Before coming to Australia, I had lived for five months in Beijing, China. After having spent so much time in one of the biggest cities on the planet, I just wanted to get as far from people as possible. Tasmania was a good choice. The entire island only had 513,000 people, and nearly half of them lived in Hobart. “Tassie” had plenty rugged wilderness to explore. Where, exactly, would I go?
It was time for a change of pace. I had finished the Great Ocean Walk, then spent two days sea kayaking and relaxing on Torquay's beaches with Craig and some other friends. So far on my Australia trip, I had only seen Victoria, the southernmost state on the main continent. But Australia had a large chunk of land further south, a land so forgotten, it was often omitted from maps of the country. Even its name sounded exotic. Tasmania.